Women empowerment is good for the balance sheet

Latest figures from Statistics SA indicate that 51percent of South Africas population are women. The Commission on the Status of Women in South Africa further notes that only 45percent of these women are active participants in the economy. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Balance For Better is the theme for the 2019 International Women. To understand this, it is best to go back in time. When I was younger, not much emphasis was placed on self. Women were there to serve others, sometimes at the expense of their wellbeing. House chores were hardly shared, a professional nurse left work late, but still had to get home and cook for a hubby who left work early. This tended to be the norm. 

Balance For Better starts with you, taking care of yourself, loving yourself unconditionally and never giving up on yourself and your dreams. Good health is a starting point, you are what you eat, keeping a healthy weight saves you from obesity-related diseases, exercise helps you to manage stress, good 8-hour sleep is priceless and cannot be substituted. 

Women need to create “me time” as a matter of habit. Like Oprah says, ‘’you can’t give from an empty cup’’. Balance me time with time for work, time for loved ones and time for your community. Each one of us owe it to the generations that follow to eradicate inequality by giving back to the communities that we come from.

In the workplace, balance for better needs managers to make balanced judgments about women and their skills and potential, instead of relying on old stereotypes and assumptions. We need organisations to acknowledge women’s contribution, support and promote them, not just a few men of a race or class that is similar to those in power, but all women across social class and race. In 2016, Credit Suisse found that companies, where women hold 25% of decision-making roles, generate 4% higher cash flow returns on investment. When women represent half of senior managers. These companies produce 10% higher cash flow returns on investment.  

Researchers in the same study also found that companies with at least three women on their boards produced median gains of 10% return on equity and 37% Earning Per Share. Companies with zero women on their boards had negative median changes for return on equity and Earnings per Share. Balance For Better is good for the balance sheet, it’s an economic imperative for organisations. However, we need more than just ticking the number box. The culture has to be inclusive. When employees feel included and accepted for who they are, they go beyond the call of duty. They are more likely to be innovative without fear of being judged if they fail.

Balance For Better requires gender balance at a leadership level in all spheres of society. Women alone cannot achieve this without men, who lead in all spheres of society. Men have to be our allies as women. We need them in the room when we discuss the challenges of patriarchy, we need them in the room when we celebrate women’s contribution to our liberation. 

Being born in a patriarchal society means most of us if not all of us, have an unconscious bias which we need to confront every day. Self-correction for bias is a conscious and deliberate effort every day by each one of us. Equality is not a female issue, it’s a social and economic imperative, parity will benefit all society.  

How do we create safe spaces for minorities, whether its women or LGBT communities? Allowing employees to form networks that are supported by the organisation; from women’s forums, formations of young parents, men and women, mentorship programs amongst other initiatives. These are initiatives that seek to create an inclusive culture.  

Balance For Better means we need a batter gender balance in income, in leadership positions, in education, in health and indeed all areas of life. As long as we remain the capital of rape, with a femicide rate that is five times the global average, Balance For Better will remain elusive. Balance For Better starts at our homes, raising the boy and girl child to be the best they were meant to be without imposing gender stereotypes.

I had the privilege to interview women achievers for my doctoral thesis which resulted in a book titled Equal But Different. The objective for the thesis was two-fold; firstly to assess the impact of the intersection of race, gender and social class in women’s career progression and secondly, looking at strategies for gender transformation at a leadership level. There were many common threads in what was shared by women; hard work, investment in one’s self, resilience; support from family. Each one had a family member who believed in them, who told them they could be anything they choose to be. This message carried them during difficult times.  

What does Balance For Better in South African academia look like? According to 2016 National data on gender representation, only 27.5% of professors are women, from a total of 2,218; 39.5% associate professors and 45.1% senior lecturers. Only 4 Vice Chancellors out 26 are women. What would it take to reach balance for better in academia? Is the environment conducive for women to thrive?  

Should we not have men and women in the room when we celebrate women’s contribution in all spheres of society; when we tackle the gender imbalance issues? It is my assertion that these events need both men and women. 

Dr Dlamini is an author, businesswoman and chancellor of Wits University.